“Stay safe” has quickly become the catchphrase of 2020. Six months ago, if people suddenly started to tell us to “stay safe” after every conversation, it would have seemed mildly threatening and ominous. This shows us that we have adapted relatively quickly to a new mode of living and new social conventions. But with those new social conventions comes an understandable awkwardness and hesitation. It is a fact, the world has changed, the situation has changed, and we need to learn how to change with it. Now that we may be going back to work, or even just out of our homes more than usual, there are two important questions that we have to ask ourselves. What adjustments should we consider making, and why does it matter?
Developing Extra Awareness
Stay aware of those around you. In this day and age, it’s easy to pop in some headphones and disconnect from the world while shopping, jogging, or running errands. But it’s important to stay mindful. Personal space is essential, so keep an eye out for how close you are to those around you. Getting too close to someone may make them uncomfortable. This can take more deliberate effort than you would think when standing in line and traversing the narrow isles of a grocery store.
But aren’t we being overly cautious? Well, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that the virus is completely gone at this point. There are still people out there with compromised immune systems who have been living with heightened anxiety for months. Or you could encounter people who have lost a loved one to the virus. Even though you may be comfortable saddling up to them in a line, they may not be. We can show that we care about those around us by developing that extra awareness and reading the social cues of the situation. Which, when being honest, will take us a while to learn. But we can do it! And this kind of awareness can help us with so many more situations. It’s been said that sympathy is understanding your pain, but empathy is feeling your pain in my heart. And empathy can go a long way to soothing the fear and anxiety of others.
Modifying Our Greetings
Normally, I would not hesitate to hug my friends, especially if I haven’t seen them for a while. Now it’s a different story. We may find ourselves approaching someone we know only to awkwardly stand there, maybe inserting a shy wave or an unintentional wink just to fill the void. We will all have to find our unique way of greeting others. And that may change depending on who we are talking to. With a co-worker a smile and nod may suffice, a stranger a kind wave, and a friend an epic air “handshake”.
This doesn’t mean that we suddenly have to become unfriendly and emotionally distant to everyone around us. We should still be reaching out to others, if not with a handshake then with our words, smile, and tone of voice. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation as well. Some people have struggled with the quarantine. It’s important to show those people that they are not alone. Why not send flowers, a card, or a gift box to someone you care about? Even little things can help resolidify our social bonds with those around us.
Even though we may be seeing more people in a day, there are fewer social events that allow for natural conversation. So we need to take things into our own hands and make our opportunities for connecting. This will not feel natural at first. We can all agree that we never imagined Zoom would play such a key role in our lives. And it’s difficult to video call or phone up a friend when you’ve only ever talked to them in person. Now that in-person communication is rare and complicated, we can take advantage of this situation to shift the way we interact with people.
So why not plan a happy hour party on Zoom? Before quarantine, I never thought to videoconference with my family that lives far away. Now’s the time to connect with friends and family that we wouldn’t normally see in day to day life.
Take Advantage of Change
There are not many people in the world that love change. Change is difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary part of life and a defining characteristic of 2020. The quicker we can learn to resiliently adapt to change, the easier it will be to keep up on what’s important to us. Whether it’s your relationships with your friends and family, or your goals and your job. We don’t have to just be resigned to change, we can learn to accept it, take advantage of it, and thrive in it. That’s easier said than done, but we’ve had a lot of practice recently and if we continue to do our best to embrace the awkward social interactions, show kindness to others, and practice empathy, we can truly be taking action to help everyone “stay safe”.